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implementing either General Davis' or Colonel Barrow's recommendations.39*

The controversy between the air and ground commanders surfaced in
February 1969 in the Marine Corps Gazette, the Corps' professional
journal. In a letter to the editor, Major General Davis publically vented
his frustrations about helicopter usage and control. He stated that
he regularly used Army LOH and other light helicopters for scouting
and reconnaissance missions. Countering claims by the wing that the
helicopters were vulnerable to enemy heavy machine gun fire, the division
commander argued that the Army aircraft "have not been hit by ground
fire-although they have discovered a number of 12.7 AA [antiaircraft]
machine guns near the LZ- nor any of our troop helicopters hit by ground
fire." On the other hand, Davis declared that as many as nine Marine
helicopters at one time sustained damage in a landing zone when not
using scout helicopters. He contended that "these scouts are as important
to security of helicopter operations as scouts on the trail are vital
to the security of ground maneuver units."40


Davis then turned to the matter of command relations between the helicopter and ground commanders. He complained that for the most part, after the initial planning, the infantry commander played a secondary role "in most of the Marine helicopter assaults in Vietnam." The company, battalion, or even regimental commander found himself stranded at the pick-up zone, "while the helicopter leader with his captive load of troops decides where, when, and even if the troops will land." According to Davis, "this is more the rule rather than the exception." General Davis then asserted that if a greater effort was made to include the infantry commander in the process, "we would have less aborts, better preps, and fewer landings made in the wrong LZ."41


The entire subject came to a head in the spring of 1969. In April, Lieutenant General Herman Nickerson, who succeeded General Cushman as Commanding General, III MAF, ordered the formation of a board of senior officers, headed by his deputy. Major General Carl A. Youngdale, "to examine the use and command and control of Marine Corps helicopter assets . . . ." After holding extensive hearings, the Youngdale Board reported back to Nickerson. While recognizing that the root of the problem "lay in the shortage of helicopter assets in terms of numbers, types (particularly armed helicopters), mix, and lift," it identified several other problems. Chief among them was a lack of confidence between air and ground officers concerning the other's ability to carry out his part of the mission. Other shortcomings included the need for the development of more detailed planning and better coordination between the air and ground components in helicopter operations.42


While making several recommendations, the board realized that many of these questions required long-term solutions. This was especially true about building mutual trust between Marine ground and air officers. In part, the board concluded that there was a lack of common professional experience and socialization between the two groups." The shortage


* According to Lieutenant Colonel Louis J. Bacher, from his experience as
commander of the 2d Battalion, 27th Marines at Da Nang unti1 June, 1968,
"it was necessary to schedule a helicopter for aerial reconnaissance
of an 80 grid square TAOR days in advance. MedEvac requests were assigned
a priority category and were rilled accordingly, usually hours later.
In contrast. Army battalion commanders had light observation and command
helicopters (LOACH) either organic or readily available. The KMC [Korean
Marine Corps] Brigade had at least three cargo choppers and one Huey
assigned daily." LtCol Louis J. Bacher, Comments on draft, dtd 7May95
(Vietnam Comment File).

** Lieutenant Colonel Thomas F. Miller described two programs that
MAG-16 undertook to promote harmony between the helicopter and ground
community. On large operations, the MAG operations officer and "the
pre-selected helicopter flight leader to the ground commander's unit
for the initial [emphasis in the original] planning sessions. These
officers familiarized themselves with the ground unit's objectives.
At this time they could offer their input to the OpPlan prior to it
being "etched in stone." The officers returned to the ground unit as
alterations or changes occurred." He believed this resulted in the following
advantages: "l. . . . [The operations officer would] thoroughly [emphasis
in the original] brief all helicopter flight crews participating in
the assault. The crews were told exactly what the ground units were
trying to achieve and where they in helicopters fit into the picture.
(2) The selected flight leader knew exactly what the ground commander's
objectives, time schedules, and general scheme of maneuver were; and
planned his flight accordingly. On D-day the air and ground commanders
were on the same page. If a change in landing zones became necessary,
the flight leader made his recommendation based on the known ground
commander's objectives. This program was very successful." In the second
program, "on each Friday numerous company-grade officers were invited
and flown 'out of the bush' to Marble Mountain. The officers were guests
of the pilots at MAG-16. They were treated to hot showers, great meals,
movies, and/or a socializing 'adult' beverage at the club. Saturday
they could hit the PX; then toured the helicopter base and participated
in a 'give & take' briefing session at the S-3 bunker. These 'give and
take' sessions eliminated many of the misconceptions shared by both
ground and the air officers who supported them. They made working together
much, much easier." Miller Comments.







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